As I get older, I find myself withdrawing more and more from popular music. I know that I’m far from alone there, but I can’t do it. With the exception of a small handful of artists like Chris Stapleton, (and God BLESS Chris Stapleton) all the music that I love comes from independent/largely unknown artists.
There is a thick facade on the commercial releases that immediately betrays them as something less than honest. When I hear the programmed drum loops and auto-tuned vocals that have taken over all popular music, it becomes difficult to focus on the lyrics or the emotion of the song. And truth be told, most of the time, the tracks just consist of grade-school level cliches.
I continue to be amazed by the sheer number of people who have never been exposed to great music. Over the years, I’ve had a number of artists that I “quiz” the audience about at shows. “Have you ever heard of…” Townes Van Zandt, John Prine, Sturgill Simpson, Amanda Shires, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Jason Isbell, and so on. These are Grammy winning artists, and in the case of Van Zandt and Prine, absolute legends. But I would estimate that only about 5 or 10% of folks we play for have ever heard of them. Instead, we get asked to play Bon Jovi or Drake or Luke Bryan. THE HITS. PLAY THE HITS!
I love a good dance song or an all-time anthem as much as anybody. But there has to be more to life, right? When I’m telling stories about music history or the artists I love on stage, I often feel like I’m the proverbial Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. The music that my wife and I listen to is raw, and pure, and full of expression and inspiration. You feel as if you’re looking straight into the soul of the singer, and you feel their joy, or pain, or gratitude, or anger, tenfold.
As long as music as real as this is out there, I’m not going to listen to commercial radio. I’m not even sorry, to tell you the truth. The neighborhood kids can be on my lawn all they want, as long as I get to pick the music.